The State of Premium WordPress Themes

state-of-themes

Premium themes are, in fact, great. They mean people can happily spend time building them, refining them and supporting them. They mean that themes can stop being good and start becoming great and even more importantly, the themes can innovate WordPress, the platform they’re all dependant on (we’ll come to that later). In this article we’ll look at what’s next for premium themes and what kind of legacy they’re leaving behind.

Get Rich Quick

Inevitably there are some how want to piggy back on the success of the premium theme market. This, again inevitably, means that some people get a bad deal when buying themes as they don’t know any better. This allows people to label small theme makers as “not to be trusted”, claiming they should only buy from any of a select number of “trusted” names.

It may just be a coincidence, but I’ve often found it’s the “trusted” people making these claims and whether they mean to or not it’s an incredibly clever way of ensuring their position at the top of the market is unchallenged. I don’t think having someone “everyone” has heard of behind the theme company should be a test for whether they’re any good or not. Whether the themes work well should be the test, surely?

Positive Competition

Or is it? The nature of the competition means if someone does something it’s incredibly easy for everyone else to copy it. And so they do. Perhaps without thinking whether it’s a good idea to include that function in their themes.

Purely hypothetically, if themes were all closed source and developers couldn’t just take a look at the competition’s source code, I think there’d be more innovation as people would have to do it themselves instead of just copying what others are doing.

Affiliate Heaven

An affiliate’s heaven. That’s the best way of describing them.

Premium themes have brought a new kind of menace to the WordPress community: the list post filled with “100 Best Premium WordPress Themes”. Posts filled with affiliate links and screens of themes that, frankly, are a little bit rubbish. I’m looking at ThemeForest (the irony!) especially where designers trying to develop often leads to poor results and copying.

On the flip side though, they allow bloggers to share in the success of premium themes, earning a little extra income from supporting something that they (hopefully) genuinely believe is a good product. Some folks are even kind enough to buy advertising on sites like mine, something I and I’m sure others are very grateful for.

Dependency on WordPress

It’s obvious, but premium WordPress themes are dependant on WordPress and the continued success of WordPress. Woo have been the first to branch out into ExpressionEngine and then Tumblr, something I expect others will be doing too.

At the moment though, it’s in everyone’s best interests that WordPress continues to grow and it’s going to be interesting to see how all parties contribute. At this point it’s customary to cite what Woo did with the custom navigation. Trouble is there’s a limit to how many times something like that can be replicated as otherwise we’ll all upgrade one day to find colour pickers and widgets everywhere, something that’s not necessarily a good thing!

It’s all… shiny

Originally themes were designs. Then they became designs with functions stuck on. As I said earlier, because someone did it, everyone else copied. This has led to themes becoming not-quite-as-nice-to-look-at although recently there’s been a shift back to looking good instead of just functioning well. Personally, I think that whilst a theme can function awesomely, it’s not something that all themes need to do or even should do; fundamentally they’re designs and thus that should be the primary function of the theme — to look good.

Acceptance

They’re here to stay, I think everyone needs to realise that very quickly. Personally, I see no reason why there shouldn’t be some option for themes to be installed directly from the admin panel, but that’s something to argue about another day. Do let me know I’m wrong.

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Hello, I'm Alex! I started WPShout in 2009, just before my 16th birthday. Get in touch with me, I'd love to chat. You should also follow me on Twitter :)

15 Comments

  • I don’t think there’s any thing wrong with less quality themes being sold or the big names emphasizing their built-in reputation. As long as the lesser quality themes are price accordingly. I often see themes that are…well…crap (either design, code or both) but are being sold for three digits plus.

    There is a shady aspect of the premium theme market but for the most part it’s a good thing and helps designers and developers get paid and helps smaller sites and business get a great look for their site without spending thousands on a custom crafted theme (though the custom crafted theme is obviously ideal!).

    • Alex Denning

      True, but I just don’t like the way the big guys claim if you don’t buy one of their themes then you’ll end up with something horrendous!

      Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a sensible pricing structure for some.

      • Agreed, but that is a benefit of being a big name in the theme biz. Smaller theme makers can make similar claims about how their themes will be cheaper, more frequently updated and able to better incorporate customer ideas and wishes.

        Hmmm, this got me thinking….going to email you an idea.

  • As an author on ThemeForest, I’ll agree with you on poor results and copying. Everything basically looks the same, slider, three column layout with a different color header…

    It intrigues me that customers throw their money at these bland designs over and over again.

    My work is no exception, but I have yet to see a truly original theme in any marketplace that doesn’t mirror another one in any shape or form.

    • Alex Denning

      I’ve got a lot of respect for you that you’re happy to say that.

      Half the trouble, as I say is designers developing but that fact you’ve come here is an excellent first step!

      Do let me know how you get on — and if you need any help, do get in touch ;)

    • Not necessarily true–this brand new ThemeForest theme is amazing and unique: http://themeforest.net/item/horizontal-brand-box-one-page-portfolio/106818

      • Alex Denning

        I think it’s fair to say the cast majority of ThemeForest themes don’t follow best practices — I’m not going to name him, but a certain successful ThemeForest author agrees with me on that.

        As for that theme, there’s no mention of how the WordPress functionality works other than a fairly standard options page.

  • This is a well-written article. Great points all around.

    I kind of agree and disagree with your last point. I agree that some themes incorporate way too many unnecessary functions/options, which should be left for plugins. Of course, some options are good to have, especially if they impact the design/layout (like enable or disable the featured posts slider, etc.).

    I’m not sure I agree that the design quality has diminished. There are always poorly designed themes out there, but I think for the most part there is still great work being done. The shift I’ve seen over time is a move towards more clean and simple layouts that encourage modifications. People are either drawn to the clean look/feel or they’re seeking something to use as a base for their mods. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it is a very “copied” trend these days.

    • Alex Denning

      Cheers Brian.

      Themes like Thesis, frankly, don’t look anything special out of the box. Sure, they do encourage modifications but the reason someone’s bought the theme is that they’re not comfortable customising or making their own.

  • Great post.

    We’ve seen this with most open source CMS projects. At some point in their evolution when they hit critical mass and a commercial ecosystem develops around it – the idealists start to warn of the grave dangers of commercial snake oil salesmen out to make a quick buck off their work.

    Not so my friends.

    If someone wants to buy a premium theme or plugin it’s because there is a demand for it and that person is quite happy to pay to avoid having to do it themselves.

    As you say – they’re here to stay.

  • Themeforest has the best collection of themes that differ enough for many users. I’ve seen one too many sites (free and premium) that have recycled the same look over and over. It’s nice to see someone pushing the envelope on what WordPress can handle and its appearance too. It would be nice to see more quality themes out there, both premium and FREE. Sometimes a good free theme comes out with all the bells and whistles..or just looks great. It would nice to see that happen more frequently.

  • Designers will talk code, to the general user code is something unseen and only important if it goes wrong! I use a variety of paid and free themes and rightly or wrongly always make a choice based on design looks… Is the design right for the subject matter of the blog!

  • Attractive collection, all are fresh themes. I have tried AskIt and I guess it is one of the best theme I came across for question and answer website. It is easy to install and looks professional and clutter free.

  • If you want to look more professional with your site then you should buy a premium wp theme. Or to make a personalized one. I think it’s a good business to create lots of themes, because millions of sites and blogs are created every day, and not all of them have a designer.